“The Amazing Spider-Man”

Richard’s Review:  3 1/2 stars

Any movie brazen enough to put the word “amazing” in the title should really go the extra mile to ensure that it is amazing. Otherwise filmmakers run the risk of earning reviews that begin like this: “Amazing Spider-Man,” more like “So-So Spider-Man.”

There’s nothing really wrong with this reboot of the Sam Raimi series. That said, the film doesn’t have the oomph I would have expected from a talented director such as Marc Webb.

Like Raimi’s first Spider-Man film, which was released 10 years ago, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is an origin film. Peter Parker (played by “The Social Network’s” Andrew Garfield) is a misfit teen who develops superhuman powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. His Spidey-senses tingle when danger nears. As the song goes, he can “do whatever a spider can.”

Peter’s new powers put him on the path of his father’s old partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), an amputee doctor experimenting with cross genetic engineering to find a way to regrow his arm. Those powers also lead Peter into the arms of Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), the cute daughter of a hard-boiled police captain (Denis Leary).

There are differences between Raimi’s take on the Spider-Man story and Webb’s new film. Peter no longer organically shoots webs -- they now come out of a mechanical web-slinger. Parker also has a new romantic interest. Gwen replaces Mary-Jane Watson, who was played by Kirsten Dunst in the previous Spider-Man movies.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” also comes with the new villain Curt Connors, who appeared in the other movies as Peter’s professor. Connors morphs from human to giant lizard, determined to infect everyone with lizard juice.

J. Jonah Jameson, the Daily Bugle’s Editor-in-Chief, is also absent from this film.

The biggest change, however, comes in the starring character.

Spider-Man Mach 1, Tobey McGuire, played the webbed wonder’s human counterpart as a sweet, awkward and bullied loner. Garfield takes a different approach. His Parker is rebellious and angst-ridden. He taunts his enemies with wisecracks and gleefully yells, “I’m swingin’ here!” as he zigzags through the air supported by his newfangled super webs. 

It’s an interesting take on Parker, which Garfield pulls off with aplomb despite the fact that he is 11 years older than his character. Garfield has made this figure his own, balancing Parker’s nervous energy with Spider-Man’s cockiness.

Emma Stone’s Gwen also brings some necessary heart to the story, as do Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Peter’s Uncle Ben and Aunt May. But this is a summer blockbuster, so the emphasis is on nine-foot long lizards and fight scenes.

Despite the large scope of this movie, “The Amazing Spider-Man” seems on a smaller scale than Raimi’s earlier “Spider-Man” films.

The visionary rethink that Christopher Nolan brought to Batman isn’t here. “The Amazing Spider-Man” does have the best Stan Lee cameo to date, beautiful photography and more humour than the previous Spider-Man films. But it doesn’t feel as amazing as it should have.


Richard’s Review:  2 1/2 stars

I knew “Savages” was going to be an over-the-top Oliver Stone movie from the opening minutes. A “wargasm” reference was my first clue. By the time Benicio Del Toro twirled his moustache in this film like a pantomime baddie, I knew this wasn’t the same restrained director at work here who gave us “W” and “World Trade Center.” This was Stone in unhinged “Natural Born Killers” mode. “Savages” is a wild ride, but I found it more flamboyant than fun.

Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch portray Ben and Chon, entrepreneurs, drug dealers and two-thirds of a love triangle with California cutie Ophelia (Blake Lively). They sell a potent strain of legal, medical-grade marijuana, but also siphon off some for illicit practice and profit. That move earns the attention of a Mexican Baja drug Cartel run by Elena (Salma Hayek). Elena will do anything to create a joint venture, including kidnapping their shared paramour Ophelia.

Revenge turns bloody when Elena’s enforcer, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), gets involved. Things get even more complicated when a dirty DEA agent (John Travolta) double-crosses everyone.

“Savages” is definitely a good-looking movie, but the cast is also interesting. Johnson and Kitsch portray good and evil here and are the flip sides of the same coin. 

Lively isn’t as sprightly as her name might suggest, but she does played a damaged character quite well. I also enjoyed Travolta, Hayek and Del Toro chewing up the scenery here with the despicable characters they play. Even so, I felt it hard to care about any of them. I found myself hoping they’d all end up in a Mexican standoff, firing until no one was left standing.

But stand they do, and for a little over two hours they take us into their world of double-crosses, beheadings and threesomes. Stone also fills the film with pointless close-ups of beaches, crabs and Buddha statues. Stone is a sensualist. He allows his camera to caress Lively’s face and fill the screen with beautiful images. Even Del Toro’s torture scenes have a certain glamorous élan to them. Even so, it’s still a rather empty experience.

The plotting goes crazy near the middle of the movie. As well, any commentary on the morality of the drug trade is sidestepped in favour of an ending that plays both sides of the intellectual fence.

“Savages” is at its black-hearted best a preposterous popcorn movie that strives to be something more. But the film’s message apparently went up in smoke, much like the product that makes all these characters do such horrible things.

 “Katy Perry: Part of Me”

Richard’s Review: 4 1/2 stars for Katycats, 3 stars for everyone else

The new documentary “Katy Perry: Part of Me” is being described as a “warts and all” look at a tumultuous year in the life of the pop star. That may be a bit of a stretch. This is only as gritty as an authorized look at one of the world’s biggest stars can be. “Titicut Follies” is warts and all, and “Part of Me” is no “Titicut Follies.” The documentary is more an explosion of cotton candy.

Professionally, 2011 was a breakout year for Katy Perry. Her album, “Teenage Dream,” was a huge success, spawning five No. 1 hits. It also made Perry the first female in history -- and only the second artist (after Michael Jackson) -- to control the charts in that way.

Perry’s elaborately staged worldwide tour was also a smash success and her marriage to comedian Russell Brand made front-page news.

The movie carefully chronicles her rise from Pentecostal Christian gospel singer to struggling Alanis Morissette wannabe to colorful pop star. “How can you be too cartoony?” Perry asks.

Archival footage reveals a cute little girl hamming it up in the church choir and an ambitious 18-year-old determined not to be the first Katy Perry in the music business, not the next Avril Lavigne.

The live tour performances are intercut with visits with Perry’s slightly grumpy grandmother. We also get interviews with her staff and friends, who generally say the kind of things the public would expect.  It’s only when the tour nears its end and Perry’s marriage is in tatters that the movie reveals something other than a carefully manicured picture of the star.

Perry is inconsolable just tours before a performing in front of a sold out crowd in Sao Paulo, Brazil Perry. Divorce papers have been filed and there is some talk that Perry might not be in a state to go onstage. Instead of cancelling the show, Perry turns her frown upside down, pastes on her high-wattage smile and goes on. It is a true, transparent moment in a film that offers little more than a fan-friendly portrait.

In that moment, coupled with her teary reaction to thousands of people chanting, “We love you Katy” in Portuguese, Perry becomes more than a glossy confection. There is no “Give the anarchist a cigarette,” (Google it) moment here, just a series of vignettes featuring an attractive, talented young woman who seems really nice and also happens to be a big star.

There are also glimmers of what “Part of Me” could have been.  If you’re not already a Katycat you may end up liking Katy Perry the person, more than her movie.

 “To Rome with Love”

Richard’s Review: 2 stars

Europe has been mostly kind to Woody Allen. After years of documenting life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan the famed filmmaker decamped to the continent, beginning his European vacation in London before moving on to Barcelona and Paris. The latest city on his whistle stop tour is the setting for his least interesting film in years.

“To Rome with Love” may be the only mainstream comedy -- and maybe the only non-mainstream comedy, for that matter -- to simultaneously contemplate love, fame and Ozymandias Melancholia.

Allen has created a portmanteau starring Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page as people under the thrall of life in the Eternal City.

“To Rome with Love” is well-meaning, but feels like something Allen would have written 40 years ago. It’s an episodic screwball comedy with loads of characters, identity mix-ups, Allen’s trademarked highbrow references and surreal situations. It has the same kind of farcical feel of his earlier work, so look out for older men paired with younger women, anxiety, as well as comments on death and discussions on foreign film. But if Allen had written this movie decades ago it might have been funnier.

Allen, playing Alison Pill’s father, gives himself most of the funny lines, (“I was never a communist,” he says, “I couldn’t even share a bathroom.”). While he manages to inspire a laugh or two, this master’s touch is missing from much of the film.  

Sporadic laughs dot the movie, but aren’t in abundance. The most surreal and effective part of the film involves Benigni as a clerk who becomes famous for being famous. It is a study on the nature and fickleness of fame. It’s the movie’s strangest and most charming segment. Benigni is just one step below his amped up walking-on-the-backs-of-chair-at-the-Oscars mode. He’s a pleasure to watch. 

“To Rome with Love” is long on ambition and Italian scenery, but short on execution.